City Council Decorum

Issue 8 on the post at NextDoor is about Council Decorum, an issue near and dear to my heart, so here is what the post says and here is my response.

Issue 8. Citizens are concerned about the bickering and lack of decorum among City Council members.

Question 8-a: How would you manage this problem?

Question 8-b: Do you believe this has led to departure of key staff?

Question 8-c: How do you think staff morale and retention can be improved?

My response:

Yes there are some concerned about “bickering” among the Council but I do not think the perception that this is a “problem” is all that widespread. While I do agree that there have been comments that were probably a bit too personal and a bit offensive, at least during my year as mayor we were able to reach consensus on some significant issues and we got a lot of things done. We were able to compromise on the smoking ordinance and get that in place. We were able to work with the residents on the revised hedge ordinance and get that in place. We were able to reach agreements with all of our labor organizations, when we did not have agreements with some for a few years prior. We were able to expand the joint administration of the fire service to add in Belmont and increase service at lower cost. We started liaison committees with both of our local school districts and with neighboring cities to work jointly on common problems and issues. We passed the City’s very first economic development plan. We began the project to put solar panels on the library and to reduce our energy use. We continued our efforts to reduce water use and we increased our rebate programs. We passed a budget that for the first time in years did not rely on the use of reserves to supplement income. Did we have disagreements – yes. Were some of them harsh – yes. But the fact is that we got a lot of things done in 2014. So my position is that you should judge us on what we accomplished not whether you like our personalities. We worked hard for the City and some of us are very passionate about the direction that the City needs to go. Sometimes this boils over in ways we later wish is did not. This would be a problem if as a result we were unable to accomplish anything, but that is not what happened. In 2014 we accomplished a lot through compromise, discussion and yes, even argument. So I dispute the conclusion that “bickering” was a problem that needs to be solved as it is our job to get things done for the City, not to simply get along.

As to the departure of staff, blaming that on the Council is also false. When I arrived on the City Council in 2009, all of our senior staff had been here for many years and all were already looking at retirement plans. We discussed this as a Council and through our City Manager we began planning for it. Most of the senior staff that left went on to retirement. Those retirements were planned but also the fact that the 2008 recession was freezing salaries probably accelerated the process. I believe that one staff member likely left due to issues with some of the Council, but not one other ever told me or anyone else I know that the retirements were due to the Council. Having gone to lots of Council meetings in other places, I can tell you first hand, that there are a lot more “difficult” council members than any of us. Proof of what I am saying is shown in the fact that most of the positions vacated by retirement where then taken by then current senior staff in the relevant department. Also, when you look at our staff as a whole, there are a lot of people who have been here a very long time. That is not usual to see as there is often lots of movement. We do not have very much of that. It is easy to believe from the outside that there were a lot of retirements and some difficult moments with Council members but the fact is that the Council was not the cause of the vast majority of those retirements.

Staff morale and retention are also not a problem. As noted above, we have a large number of staff members who have been here a long time. The way municipal pensions work, however, is that many retire at ages that are younger than they would retire in the private sector. That does not mean that moral or retention are a problem. They are not.

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